At this point, it is difficult to see more than a couple of years ahead, when planning ahead for zero carbon fuel, because the way fuels like hydrogen will play out is uncertain. A hydrogen fuel cell could be here by 2026, but it also may not be here until 2029.
“We’re being quite transparent when we say the second half of the decade for fuel cell trucks, because we don’t know, for example, what they mean to Europe, North America or Australia,” says Paul Ilmer, Vice President Emerging Technology Business development at Volvo. “It allows us to have a kind of honest development transparency, we need to work out which market comes first, where the support is set up in that market, where is it suited to some markets more than others, because of climate, road condition, and things like that.
“What we do know, though, is Australia is a priority market, because of the abundance of demand and the signals that we’re getting around hydrogen infrastructure.”
Volvo is probably going to end up with quite a mix of alternative power vehicles and will have battery electric, certainly fuel cell and, probably in certain applications, a hydrogen combustion engine.
Volvo says it is open to whatever technology works for any application, that has the lowest carbon profile. By the time we get to 2030, there is likely to be a mix of technologies and energy delivery systems and energy types and how one or the other suits different applications better than others will become clearer. So far, it’s quite obvious that battery battery electric is going to suit urban distribution around the city.
Battery electric is the first cab off the rank and the range issue will decide where the cut-off point between battery and fuel cell will come.
“We’re assuming with electric, we’re going to be in the vicinity of 350 to 400 kilometres range,” says Paul. “You can only fit so many batteries on the chassis. So I think that that sort of 3-400km mark will be the cut-off for battery. Then, for applications beyond that, we’re going to be relying on hydrogen energy storage. I think there’ll be incremental gains around battery electric, including truck design, around aero, reducing energy losses along the driveline.
“I still think so much of it is about the driver, the guidance that you give them by way of telemetry gauges that show when you’re consuming energy or producing energy, has a big impact. We see that the driver still has a 20 to 30 per cent impact on the range.”
There is a good deal of uncertainty around combustion engines, going into the future. At the moment the diesel engine is the only viable fuel but on the way to a zero-emission hydrogen engine, there are some staging posts offering reductions in carbon emissions, including HVO (biodiesel) and biogas, which can reduce carbon by up to 80 per cent.
“HVO will lower the carbon profile, and my opinion is, once we get good supply, I actually think it could be here to stay,” says Paul. “There’s some applications where the internal combustion engine is going to be around for a long time. Thinking about heavy, long applications, renewable diesel is a great alternative. It’s a pragmatic alternative too, it’s not pie in the sky, it’s a real alternative.
“Even from a hydrogen perspective, when you look at quads and things like that. I don’t know if we’ll be able to solve those. We should be able to solve it with HVO, for example.”